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Transportation & Environment

Re-Design of the Times Square Bowtie between West 42nd and West 47th Streets along Broadway

WHEREAS, The reconstruction of Times Square is a multi-year project undertaken by the Department of Design and Construction, Department of Transportation, and the Times Square Alliance to improve the public spaces in and around Times Square from West 42nd Street to West 47th Street and to improve the safety and efficiency of traffic - vehicular, transit and pedestrian - for this stretch of Midtown; and

WHEREAS, CB5 is well aware of the positive transformations of Times Square over the past decade but does note that the area suffered from an unattractive streetscape unworthy of its critical location and signature role in NYC's history; and  

WHEREAS, Beginning in the summer of 2009, Times Square was the site of a pilot project initiated by the NYC Department of Transportation to convert five blocks of Broadway from a traffic thoroughfare into a series of pedestrian plazas. The project - Green Light for Midtown - was an attempt to rationalize the West Side traffic grid and relieve pedestrian congestion on New York's most crowded sidewalks; and

WHEREAS, This experiment built upon the renovation of Duffy Square and the TKTS booth, which created a new public space amenity in the heart of Times Square; and

WHEREAS, The new pedestrian zones, launched as a pilot project running through the end of the year, added over 60,000 SF of space for the over 360,000 pedestrians that pass through Times Square every day.  The near doubling of pedestrian space provided multiple benefits, offering new places for visitors to sit and linger, and more room for New Yorkers in a hurry to walk quickly; and

WHEREAS, NYC DOT's Evaluation Report found a 35% reduction in crash-related injuries to pedestrians and 80% fewer pedestrians walking in the street.  The report found a benefit for drivers as well, as southbound traffic speeds on Seventh Avenue increased by an average of 4%; and

WHEREAS, Research commissioned by the Times Square Alliance found that the new plazas were favored by a majority of New Yorkers, Tri-State residents, local employees, property owners, store managers, theater-goers, and business executives.  The research found that 76% of New Yorkers, 75% of suburban residents, 63% of people who work in Times Square and 68% of managers of retail businesses said they would like to see the plazas made permanent.  Furthermore, the percentage of people who work in Times Square who were "satisfied with their experience in Times Square" increased from 43% to 74% from 2007 to 2009; and 

WHEREAS, Times Square, already one of the busiest hubs in the world, attracted an even greater number of pedestrians after the closing of Broadway to traffic.  In particular the number of people walking along Broadway and 7th Avenue in Times Square increased by 11% during the pilot; and

WHEREAS, In early 2010, the City reviewed the results of the project and decided that the changes would be made permanent; and

WHEREAS, In the fall of 2010, the City and the Times Square Alliance began a design process with a team led by Snohetta, a Norwegian firm, to transform the sidewalks and plazas into a world-class public space befitting the Crossroads of the World; and

WHEREAS, Snohetta is a firm founded as a landscape and architecture firm in 1989 and has offices in Oslo, Norway, and New York City. They have been involved in diverse worldwide projects, including the streetscape design of Karl Johans gate, Oslo's main boulevard leading to the National Palace, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in Alexandria, Egypt. They received the European Prize for Urban Public Space, the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, and the Mies Van der Rohe Prize for one of their recent projects, the National Opera of Norway in Oslo; and

WHEREAS, The principal challenges identified in those early meetings included: 

WHEREAS, The preliminary final design, led by the firm Snohetta, was made public at the September 26th meeting of the Transportation & Environment Committee of Community Board Five; and

WHEREAS, The new design will incorporate new seating, new paving and underground infrastructure in order to accommodate and enhance the signature events that are staged at Times Square throughout the year. The project will also completely reconstruct the roadways in Times Square, which have not been structurally repaired in decades; and

WHEREAS, Craig Dykers, Snøhetta NY office director, describes the design approach as "subtle changes towards a unified and legible whole, with opportunities for stillness and new forms of inhabitation and stewardship for trash collection and storage of temporary furnishings. The design should improve the quality and atmosphere of this historic site for pedestrians and bicyclists while also allowing for efficient transportation flow for the betterment of the city." In addition to Snøhetta, the team includes Weidlinger and Wesler-Cohen, WXY Architecture + Urban Design, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, Billings Jackson Design, Light Projects, Ltd., Buro Happold, and Bexel; and

WHEREAS, The goals of the re-design were to: 

WHEREAS, One of the driving forces behind the design will be flexibility to accommodate and enhance the staging of signature events. The project team has analyzed the pattern of current events (more than 250 in 2009, often three at a time), and worked with broadcast engineers and events planners to define a system layout and coordinate with Con Edison and Verizon.  Permanent underground electrical, sound, and broadcasting plug-in points to this system will eliminate the need for temporary generators, cabling, and production equipment; and

WHEREAS, A significant part of this project also include infrastructure work as there are three active and interlocking subway tunnels, abandoned subway passages and stairs, abandoned trolley track hardware, and intricate sidewalk vault structures. Proper grading of streetscapes will also be integral to the design in order to address deficiencies in drainage; and

WHEREAS, The Department of Design and Construction presentation packet is attached to this resolution in order to provide additional design information; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five commends the Department of Design and Construction, the Department of Transportation, and the Times Square Alliance for their vision in recognizing the potential of a great new public space in heart of New York City and the middle of Community Board Five; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five also commends the Department of Design and Construction, the Department of Transportation, and the Times Square Alliance for their careful construction management and staging plan which we hope will minimize the impact to the workers, residents, visitors, and businesses in the area during construction; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five also recognizes that Snohetta has a taken an understated approach to the design of Times Square providing a platform for the activity and energy of the people walking through it and the buildings around it to be showcased rather the design of the sidewalks or street furniture; and

WHEREAS, Although the Board was very supportive of the design there were a number of concerns raised at the committee that need to be addressed or re-considered in the final design, including:

1)      Removal of any light poles that are not necessary for traffic signals.  Although Times Square is one of the brightest places in the world and although building owners are required to have signage with lighting the proposal nonetheless includes a number of poles which are not essential from a lighting standpoint and create additional clutter on the street.

2)      Construction of a mock-up of the paver element for testing and performance evaluation.  The Board heard concerns from the Times Square Alliance about the uncertain maintenance costs associated with this project and the paving in particular.  DDC and DOT should make every effort to construct a paving mock-up in order to provide the maintenance partner for this project - the Times Square Alliance - with a better sense of the project cost.  The Board believes this initial investment will ultimately ensure a project that is not only well designed but also appropriately maintained. 

3)      CB5 recommends that the design team, NYCT and DOT endeavor to provide efficient bus stops/access areas for pedestrians, vehicles, and transit riders.  The proposal includes sidewalk bulb outs on the corner of West 44th and West 45th which creates a lay by lane for the bus to pull into the bus stop and pick up/drop off passengers while not taking up a travel in order to do so.  The Board would like DOT and NYCT to investigate the potential for the bus stop to be located in the travel lane and the sidewalk to be uniformly widened along West side of Seventh Avenue between West 44th Street and West 45th Street as is the case on Seventh Avenue between West 43rd Street and West 44th Streets.        

4)      Re-examination of the size of the fixed benches and their impact on large events.  The Times Square Alliance noted that there is a concern about the length of the fixed benches and how they might work with large events.  The Board urges DDC and DOT to continue to explore any modifications to the street furniture to accommodate large events.  

5)      Continued engagement with NYCT, DOT, and DDC to determine whether subway access can also be improved as a part of the re-design.  The Board understands that improvements to subway access will not be a part of this project because of the limited capital funding available.  A seamless integration of the pedestrian experience from the subway to sidewalk would have made this a truly extraordinary project and the Board continues to urge the City and NYCT to work together to aspire towards this goal.

6)      Careful monitoring and enforcement with respect to the use of the bike lane along West 47th Street and Seventh Avenue.  The Board is concerned with the safety of the bike lane on West 47th Street because it travels east bound against the direction of traffic and is adjacent to the TKTS booth in Duffy Square which often has pedestrians spilling out on to the sidewalk.  Furthermore, the bike lane would be placed on the East Side of Seventh Avenue from West 47th Street to West 42nd Streets in a stretch of Seventh Avenue that also has extraordinary pedestrian volumes and where people often use the road for pedestrian circulation.  In order to ensure pedestrian and bicyclist safety we urge careful monitoring of these streets and adjustments to any plans as needed once the project is built.   

7)      Any changes to the design with respect to security infrastructure or the construction of "Spotlight on Broadway" be brought back to the Board for an opportunity to comment.  If the design to this critical public space is modified, the Board would like to continue to receive information.  Therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends conditional approval of the re-design of Times Square subject to conditions 1-7 enumerated above.   

The above resolution passed with a vote of 38 in favor, 0 opposed, 1 abstaining.

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